Turkey, Friend or Foe?

turkish-prime-minister-turkey-436x350by Kenneth R. Timmerman:

As the battle for the Syrian border city of Kobani raged and prospects of an ISIS-led massacre of thousands of innocent civilians loomed this fall, the BBC interviewed the vice-chairman of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party in Ankara.

Why hadn’t Turkey responded to NATO’s request to launch joint military operations to halt the ISIS assault on Kobani? How could Turkey just sit back and watch so many innocent civilians die, BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus asked.

The replies from Yasin Aktay are telling.

“Why is Kobani the most important problem?” he asked. “There is no tragedy in Kobani as cried out by the terrorist PKK. There is a war between two terrorist groups. You mean we should… favor one terrorist organization over another?”

The AKP deputy leader went on to explain the calculus of death as seen from Turkey’s point of view. “Less than 1000 people have been killed in Kobani, but more than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria. Which is more important?”

Aktay’s remarks reveal much more than just a callous disregard for the Kurds, who comprise roughly one-third of Turkey’s overall population, or for the popular Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which broke off peace talks with the Turkish government in October to protest Turkey’s stranglehold over the Kurds in Kobani.

According to Vice-president Joe Biden, Erdogan himself admitted that Turkey had ordered border guards to turn a blind eye as new ISIS recruits flooded across Turkey’s borders to join the battle against Assad in Syria. (Okay, when Erdogan was informed of Biden’s comments, he hit the roof and demanded that “loose-lips” Uncle Joe retract them).

In response to a Harvard University student’s question whether the U.S. could have intervened earlier in Syria, Biden went even further:

“[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends – and I have the greatest relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with – the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.

“Now you think I’m exaggerating – take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they had seen the Lord. Now we have – the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor – it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.” [h/t to Mark Langfan for excerpting this Q&A from Biden’s speech]

But Erdogan’s treachery goes much deeper.

Kurdish sources tell me that the initial Turkey-al Nusra front agreement was made more than two years ago, and included Turkey’s agreement to help smuggle arms to the Syrian rebels from Benghazi and other parts of Libya.

Earlier this year, Turkish and Qatari intelligence officials met with senior ISIS leaders in Jordan to plot the take-over of Mosul and the predominantly Christian Nineveh Plain.

Also at the meeting was a representative of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani, who has worked closely with the Turkish government and has spearheaded massive Turkish investment in northern Iraq. Barzani apparently believed ISIS would stop their advance after seizing Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, and ordered his peshmerga fighters to withdraw rather than fight the ISIS advance.

The most dramatic events occurred in Sinjar, when 13,000 peshmerga fighters mysteriously “melted away” in August rather than confront an ISIS assault force of around 1000 men. While much of the national media focused on the plight of the Yazidis, a Shiite sect considered heretical by most Sunnis, ISIS continued to march eastward through the Nineveh plain, massacring the Christians who failed to flee.

Not until they began threatening Erbil, the capital of the KRG, did Barzani apparently realize he had been duped and called on the United States to supply heavy weapons so the peshmerga could halt the ISIS advance. As Kobani was falling, Barzani authorized Kurdish fighters from the PKK and PJAK, who had bases in northern Iraq, to transit through his territory to relieve the besieged city.

Read more at Frontpage

State Department Testimony: Rebels Cannot Defeat Assad

homs-syria-rebel-reutersBreitbart, by FRANCES MARTEL:

The Islamic State has gained momentum in both Syria and Iraq while allegedly “moderate” groups against President Bashar al-Assad in the former nation have suffered increasing setbacks. With the outlook dire, even the U.S. State Department is admitting that a military overthrow of Assad appears far from a viable reality.

Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, senior State Department official Brett McGurk said the State Department “do not see a situation in which the rebels are able to remove [Assad] from power,” instead noting that Assad’s removal would have to be a “democratic” process.

The admission raises questions regarding President Obama’s continued push to arm and support “moderate” rebels against Assad, citing the use of chemical weapons against civilians, among other human rights violations. The President initially allowed for weapons to reach Syrian rebels who were considered “moderate” in June 2013, in response to allegations and accrued evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians. At the time, a poll found that 70% of Americans opposed the President’s action.

A year later, Assad appeared nowhere closer to falling, yet the President once again called arming moderate rebels– this time engaging Congress. The President and Congress finally agreed to a $500 million program to train and arm rebels vetted to be moderate.

At the moment, the program is not expected to begin until March, according to Foreign Policy. It aims to train 5,000 rebels per year, but many have criticized it as a slow reaction to a crisis that is bleeding millions of refugees into the outside world a day, not counting those displaced within Syria. A particularly troubling report this week from McClatchyindicates that there is currently little to no support to rebels on the ground from the United States at all– many rebel leaders say they have received nothing– leaving unanswered questions as to where the funding has been going.

Meanwhile, both Assad and the Islamic State have been making gains, as well as the Syrian jihadist group the Al Nusra Front. Al-Nusra, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, alleged this week that they had used a United Nations vehicle in a terrorist attack in Syria, a milestone for the group’s fight against the West. In Jordan and Afghanistan, the Islamic State’s popularity is only growing, posing the serious danger of a new influx of foreign jihadis into the Syrian war theater.

President Assad remains in power, with increasing confidence. In a recent interview with Paris Match magazine, Assad went so far as to blame the United States for the creation of ISIS, and call airstrikes against ISIS targets within Syria by US and coalition forces “illegal,” despite the consensus that they have helped his army. Of his own rule, Assad remained confident that “we as Syrians will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state”– which is to say, accept his removal from power as long as the United States has a role to play.

The situation leaves reasonable doubt regarding the potential for rebel groups to remove Assad, making McGurk’s comments an almost necessary reality from the State Department. Nonetheless, such comments do not appear to be currently interfering with President Obama’s plans to spend $500 million on training and arming rebels that even his State Department see little potential for victory in.

Also see:

Iran and US Fighting On Same Side Rattles Israeli Defense Officials

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
December 11, 2014

1065 (1)Confirmation that Iran has joined the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Syria won muted praise from U.S. officials last week. And that development has increased anxiety among Israeli defense officials that budding cooperation between Tehran and Washington will lead to dangerous comprises about Iran’s nuclear program and inadequate action confronting the Islamic Republic’s global terrorist network.

The biggest threat from that network lies just over Israel’s northern border in Lebanon.

On Sunday, according to international media reports, Israeli Air Force jets bombed targets in and around Damascus. The strikes likely targeted advanced weapons that were destined for Hizballah depots in southern Lebanon, often hidden in apartment buildings in Shi’ite villages.

With more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, Hizballah has the largest arsenal of any terrorist organization in the world, and its heavy involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime is giving it plenty of experience in ground warfare.

Israel did not confirm any involvement in the recent air strikes, but it is deeply involved in a covert war against an international Iranian-led weapons smuggling network that is designed to provide Hizballah and other radical terror entities around the Middle East with an array of sophisticated arms.

This network is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which oversees the smuggling of powerful weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon, often via Syria. The Iranian network also attempts to send arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, to radical Shi’ite militias in Iraq that fight the Islamic State, and to Shi’ite Houthi rebels that have taken over Yemen’s capital.

Iran’s Quds Force and Hizballah, both backers of the Assad regime, have set up terrorism sleeper cells around the Middle East and beyond, according to Israeli intelligence assessments. Some of these cells are routinely activated and ordered to strike Israeli and Jewish targets.

Israeli intelligence agencies quietly work to stop the planned attacks, any one of which, if successful, could spark a wider regional conflict.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program and develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

According to international media reports, Israel targeted shipments of Hizballah-bound weapons in Syria five times in 2013, and once in Lebanon in 2014. This has led Hizballah to retaliate by planting two bombs on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon appeared to hint at Israel’s role in the latest Syria strikes, by saying that “those who seek to arm Israel’s enemies will know that we can reach anywhere, at any time, and through any means to thwart their plans.”

As this covert, high-stakes struggle continues to rage against the background of Iran’s creeping nuclear program, a growing number of Israeli defense officials are expressing concern that the Obama administration may be willing to cooperate with Iran and its radical Shi’ite allies in the war against the Islamic State.

The officials stress the flourishing defense ties between Israel and the U.S., which are absolutely vital for Israeli security, and express gratitude for continuous American defense assistance.

However, some have become highly critical of the way the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State sees Iran as a de facto member.

Israeli defense officials wonder out loud whether the West, led by the U.S., is falling into a dangerous trap, by teaming up with the radical Shi’ite axis in the Middle East.

To be sure, no one within the Israeli defense establishment doubts the need to tackle the Sunni Islamic State. Israel is quietly providing any assistance necessary to the anti-ISIL coalition.

Yet it is the prospect of tactical cooperation between the U.S. and Iran against IS, and the danger that the cooperation could lead to Western concessions to Iran over its nuclear program that haunts some.

The failure by Washington to take tangible steps against Iran’s global terrorism network is also a source of concern. This network is growing in Syria, along with Iran’s presence there, and over the past 12 months, all of the cross-border terror attacks launched from Syria into northern Israel have been the work of elements linked to either Hezbollah or Iran, one senior military official has said.

These worries seem to be bolstered by comments like those recently made by Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed Iranian air strikes on Islamic State positions in Iraq, describing them as “positive.”

Unlike the Islamic State, the Shi’ite radical axis enjoys state sponsorship from an Islamic Republic that is three to six months away from nuclear weapons.

This situation makes it a more urgent problem for global security, and would seem to justify a stance that views both radical Sunnis and radical Shi’ites as threats to international peace.

Driven by an extremist religious-ideological doctrine, the Iranian-led axis views moderate Sunni governments which partner with the West – like Egypt and Jordan – as enemies, seeks to push American influence out of the Middle East, and promotes the idea of Iranian hegemony as a first step to establishing eventual Iranian global dominance.

Iran views itself as the authentic Islamic caliphate, and seeks to export its influence as far as possible. Eventually, it would like to fuel conflict across the region through its proxies under a nuclear umbrella.

“The success of the Iranian revolution influences to this day the ambition for an Islamic caliphate,” Ya’alon said this month, in an attempt to illustrate the imminent danger posed by Iran’s role in the world.

Disappointment in Israel has been expressed over what one official said was the West’s “support” for radical Shi’ites, and its willingness to ignore Iranian threats.

Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have expressed concern about the U.S. agreeing to a “bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear program since talks started. Thus far, those fears have not yet been realized.

The Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a report last week that explicitly warned about Iranian-American cooperation against IS, which it said could occur at Israel’s expense.

“Despite Iran’s basic hostility towards the United States, and despite Iran’s subversion of American interests in the Middle East, it might collaborate with the United States against ISIS and the global jihad in Syria and Iraq, the common enemy,” the reportsaid. “Such collaboration might occur at Israel’s expense and harm its vital interests (for example, Iran’s concessions on the nuclear issue). In addition, collaborating against ISIS might increase Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, and might also strengthen Hizballah’s status in Lebanon, possibly strengthening the Iranian-led radical camp in the Middle East.”

The report is another signal of concerns in Jerusalem that Washington’s war on IS could lead it to make concessions to Tehran on a nuclear program.

Such an outcome would entrench and legitimize Iran’s position as a state on the threshold of nuclear arms possession, an outcome that, in Jerusalem’s eyes, would jeopardize both regional and international security to an unacceptable degree.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

What is hiding behind Islamic State?

Photo: Press Association

Photo: Press Association

Chatham House, December 2014, Volume 70, Number 6, by Nadim Shehadi – h/t Fortuna’s Corner

In early 18th-century Aleppo there was a schism in the Greek Orthodox Church, and a new sect emerged called the Melkite Church, in communion with Rome. The Melkites, also called Greek Catholics, needed their own church, but it was illegal to build a new church in the lands of the Ottoman Empire; however, if a Christian church already existed, it was protected and it was forbidden to tear it down.

To build their church, the Melkites resorted to a trick that is practised to this day and that may help explain the complex phenomenon that we call Islamic State. The illegal new church was built in hiding, inside a hangar or a large barn, away from the eyes of the law and of rival sects. After a while the Melkites were betrayed and the barn had to be torn down, revealing a fully built church. Once it was out in the open, the church acquired legitimacy and permanency.

This practice is still followed in some slums and refugee camps where only temporary structures with tin or corrugated iron roofs are allowed. To get round this law, homes with solid roofs are built underneath the canopy of a temporary roof; after a while, the tin roof is removed. Once these solid homes are in the open, they are subject to different laws and are de facto recognized.

Islamic State is in fact such a barn or tin roof under which are hiding a complex set of forces; they would be illegal if they tried to consolidate their power over a territory but they will have to be recognized once the roof is removed.

One element is the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, former Ba’ath Party officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army with over thirty years of experience ruling the land. Many have been in hiding or in exile, given sanctuary and support by the Syrian regime.

Another important element is the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, a Sufi order which is powerful in the region and with connections that are not well understood. They include senior members of the AK party of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Muslim clergy in Syria and Lebanon.

The third element are Sunni tribes in the western provinces of Iraq who are disaffected with the policies of Shia hegemony of the former prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, and bitter at being abandoned by the Americans with whom they collaborated to get rid of Al-Qaeda in Iraq during the ‘Surge’ in 2007-08. Some of the reported massacres in western Iraq, brutal as they are, may have more to do with Ba’ath-style re-establishment of control in these provinces than with what we think of as the jihadism of Islamic State.

These disaffected Sunnis are the real forces hiding inside the barn. They have local support and connections that may explain the speed with which they took over territory; they may be led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, second in command in Saddam’s regime and the King of Spades in the US’s deck of cards. He is described as the hidden sheikh of the Naqshbandi order.

The fourth element – the one everyone can see – is composed of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq most of whom have been released or escaped from Syrian and Iraqi jails. These had played an important role in destabilizing Iraq in 2006/7, a role facilitated by the Syrian regime.

This element, joined by foreign fighters, is the barn inside which the rest of that toxic mixture of disaffected groups is hidden. The purported Salafi Islamist creed of Islamic State is incompatible with the other elements within it: the secular nationalism of the Ba’athists is anathema to the so-called caliphate proclaimed by Islamic State; Sufis such as the Naqshbandis are considered heretics and apostates; and tribal leaders are always wary of losing followers to cults.

Islamic State has been described as a virtual entity, its visibility a product of a sophisticated media strategy designed to make it seem like the fount of all evil. This propaganda campaign created the barn and at the same time created the urge to destroy it.

There is much confusion about Islamic State in international policy circles and better understanding of the phenomenon is crucial. All the opposing forces in the region have suddenly found themselves on the same side against Islamic State. In this new alignment, some voices are calling for western re-engagement with the Assad regime in Syria and a shift away from America’s traditional allies among the Gulf states in favour of Iran. The US Vice-President Joe Biden expressed this confusion publicly when he said that US allies were part of the problem.

If some of the forces incorporated in Islamic State represent legitimate elements of Sunni grievance, then focusing on the ‘caliphate’ as the ultimate enemy is diverting attention from two important causes of Sunni radicalization: one is the revolt in Syria, where the regime is now free to barrel bomb its cities and the rebels feel abandoned by the West. The second is the Iranian-sponsored militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and many more in Iraq which are now tacitly accepted by the US as part of the fight against Islamic State and have a free hand in their offensives against the Sunni population.

These militias in Iraq, clones of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have undermined the US-trained Iraqi army. With the army now barely operational, these militias are at the forefront of the fight against Islamic State. Like an arsonist posing as a firefighter, Iran and Syria are now proposing themselves as part of the solution to a problem they helped to create.

The Americans are not blameless. The increase in radical elements in Iraq is also to a large extent a consequence of three decisions taken by the Americans after the invasion of Iraq: The disbanding of the Iraqi army which left its officers outside the system; the crippling of state institutions through the wholesale de-Ba’athification process; and the timing and manner of US withdrawal, which left a vacuum to be filled by Iran.

The moral of the story is that fighting Islamic State in alliance with Iran and Assad is futile: it will increase grievances and exacerbate the problem. What is required is to address these grievances by protecting the Syrian population from the regime and curbing the power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq and the rest of the region.

The US, instead of defusing Sunni-Shia tension, is sending an inflammatory message: that it is ready to work with Assad and Iran to fight Islamic State and, while engaging with Iran on the nuclear issue, it will disregard Tehran’s power plays in the region.

Engagement should be with the real forces which operate under the cover of Islamic State; these include some unpalatable elements but evidence suggests that they have gained ground for a reason, and if that reason is not addressed they will gain even more.

US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with Al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Syrian rebels pause for prayers in Dara province, in the country's south, in the spring, in an opposition-provided photo. Rebels in the province are fighting to hold onto a strategic crossroads. (Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad) http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-south-violence-20141130-story.html

Syrian rebels pause for prayers in Dara province, in the country’s south, in the spring, in an opposition-provided photo. Rebels in the province are fighting to hold onto a strategic crossroads. (Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad)
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-south-violence-20141130-story.html

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, December 2, 2014:

For months I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media about the ongoing cooperation between US-backed “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel units and designated terrorist groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. This includes U.S.-backed rebel units who have defected wholesale to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Despite multiple reports of this cooperation, in September the congressional GOP leadership jumped on board with Obama’s proposal to spend an additional $500 million to arm and train the “vetted moderates” just weeks before the Obama administration abandoned the Free Syrian Army that had been the primary beneficiary of U.S. support for the past three years.

Now reports this weekend indicate growing cooperation between U.S.-backed rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra operating in southern Syria.

According to the LA Times:

Opposition activists reported intensified government bombardment in and around Sheik Maskin and the arrival of battle-tested loyalist reinforcements.

Fighting along with U.S.-backed rebels were elements of Al Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

In a Facebook posting, Al Nusra supporters reported “vicious battles” in the Sheik Maskin area. Earlier posts also eulogized a prominent Al Nusra commander, Abu Humam Jazrawi, who was killed in the fighting.

Al Nusra’s participation illustrates how Western-supported rebel groups often cooperate with the Al Qaeda franchise, though both sides try to play down the extent of coordination. Recent clashes between Al Nusra Front and U.S.-backed rebels in northwestern Syria do not appear to have broken the de facto alliance between the Al Qaeda affiliate and West-backed fighters in the south. (emphasis added)

Meanwhile, in northern Syria as “vetted moderate” groups were forming an umbrella with hardcore jihadist groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham, other U.S.-backed units were surrendering to Jabhat al-Nusra (a trend I noted last month) and turning over their CIA-provided arms to Ahrar al-Sham, McClatchy reports:

On Friday, as the groups were meeting here, the Nusra Front stormed the bases of two moderate rebel groups in Syria’s north: the Ansar Brigades in Idlib and the Haqq Front in Hama. The two groups, both of which were receiving U.S. support through a covert CIA program, surrendered to Nusra, delivered their weapons to Ahrar al Sham and returned to their homes. (emphasis added)

And today Syria analyst Aron Lund noted that the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army signed an agreement last week with Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham for the Qalamoun area near the Lebanese border guaranteeing the imposition of sharia and creating a mutual defense pact.

The “vetted moderate” follies continue.

Qatar Said To Run A Covert Training Camp For Syrian Rebels With U.S. Help

Soldiers walk at a Turkish military outpost overlooking the Syrian city of Kobani, on a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Soldiers walk at a Turkish military outpost overlooking the Syrian city of Kobani, on a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Huffington Post, By Amena Bakr, 11/26/2014

DOHA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – At a desert base, Gulf state Qatar is covertly training moderate Syrian rebels with U.S. help to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State and may include more overtly Islamist insurgent groups, sources close to the matter say.

The camp, south of the capital between Saudi Arabia’s border and Al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, is being used to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate rebels, the sources said.

Reuters could not independently identify the participants in the program or witness activity inside the base, which lies in a military zone guarded by Qatari special forces and marked on signposts as a restricted area.

But Syrian rebel sources said training in Qatar has included rebels affiliated to the “Free Syrian Army” from northern Syria.

The sources said the effort had been running for nearly a year, although it was too small to have a significant impact on the battlefield, and some rebels complained of not being taught advanced techniques.

The training is in line with Qatar’s self-image as a champion of Arab Spring uprisings and Doha has made no secret of its hatred of Assad.

Small groups of 12 to 20 fighters are identified in Syria and screened by the Central Intelligence Agency, the sources said.

Once cleared of links with “terrorist” factions, they travel to Turkey and are then flown to Doha and driven to the base.

GROUND FORCE

“The U.S. wanted to help the rebels oust Assad but didn’t want to be open about their support, so to have rebels trained in Qatar is a good idea, the problem is the scale is too small,” said a Western source in Doha.

The CIA declined to comment, as did Qatar’s foreign ministry and an FSA spokesman in Turkey.

It is not clear whether the Qatari program is coordinated with a strategy of Western and Gulf countries to turn disparate non-Islamist rebel groups into a force to combat the militants.

Such efforts have been hampered by Western hesitancy about providing significant military aid, because it could end up with extremists. Gulf states dislike the West’s emphasis on fighting Islamic State. Assad is the bigger problem, they say.

“Moderate rebels from the FSA and other groups have been flown in to get trained in things like ambush techniques,” said a source close to the Qatari government who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic.

“The training would last a few months, maybe two or three, and then a new group would be flown in, but no lethal weapons were supplied to them,” one of the sources said.

SCREENING PROCESS

As the war against Assad has dragged on, frustrated rebels asked their trainers for more advanced techniques, such as building improvised explosive devices (IEDs), requests which were always denied.

“They complain a lot and say that going back they need more weapons or more training in IEDs but that’s not something that’s given to them,” said a Qatar-based defense source.

The Qatar project was conceived before the declaration of the hardline Islamic State, when militants belonging to its predecessor organization were not regarded as an international security threat.

The group’s rise in Syria and Iraq has hampered the rebellion: Moderate groups cannot fight Assad when the better-armed Islamic State seeks their destruction as it strives to build its “caliphate.”

In recent weeks, the Qataris, disappointed by lack of progress in the fight against Assad, have started to consider training members of the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebels less militant than Islamic State or the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, but stronger than the FSA.

None have been trained as yet, but Qatar has sought to identify candidates, the sources say.

Some analysts say screening Islamic Front fighters would be harder than FSA rebels, since some Islamists have switched between various groups.

ISLAMIST NETWORK

Training fighters from Islamic groups could displease fellow Gulf state the United Arab Emirates, which dislikes Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international Islamist network.

But Saudi Arabia, which shares the UAE’s mistrust of the Brotherhood, is more indulgent of moderate Islamist forces when it comes to fighting Assad, diplomats say.

Asked about the Qatari training, a Saudi defense source said: “We are not aware of this training camp, but there’s one thing we agree on: Assad needs to go and we would not oppose any action taken towards that goal.”

To Qatar, ousting Assad remains a priority and youthful Emir Sheik Tamim has said that military efforts to tackle Islamic State will not work while the Syrian president remains in power.

A source who works with rebel groups said Qatar had delivered weapons, mostly mortar bombs, to the Islamic Front and some FSA brigades about two months ago and had paid some salaries for Islamic Front groups.

(Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

The Real Turkish Agenda…

ISIS Study Group , November 21, 2014:

Recent reporting has shown that the Erdogan government is still pushing for the PKK to accept the cease-fire they originally agreed to after having been targeted in Turkish military operations last month. The PKK has vehemently denied agreeing to turn their weapons and themselves over to the Turkish government, not that we’re surprised or anything.

PKK rules out government’s talk of disarmament
http://www.todayszaman.com/national_pkk-rules-out-governments-talk-of-disarmament_364726.html

erdogan 33
Erdogan: Really a “generous” kind of guy
Source: Associated Press

One would think that the Turkish Army would’ve taken action in Kobani in light of the death and destruction the Islamic State (IS) has waged along the border. Instead they launched operations against Pehsmerga forces in the village of Daglica, located in the Turkish part of the tri-border region shared with Iraq and Iran. As we’ve predicted, the Turkish military waited until the joint-PKK/YPG Peshmerga forces were degraded to a certain point before launching operations – possibly part of a bid towards establishing that buffer zone they’ve been talking so much about. Other reporting coming out of Turkey last month described clashes taking places in the Tunceli-area of Turkey involving Turkish forces and the PKK. The Turkish government claims their operations are in response to the PKK attacking one of their outposts in the area, but we’re not so sure that’s the real reason for the operations.

Turkish jets bomb Kurdish PKK rebels near Iraq
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29611582

Is Turkey a Reliable Partner In The Fight Against ISIS?
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1916

turkish air force
Turkish F4s (pictured above) and F16s participated in the OPs against the PKK
Source: BBC

The fact that Erdogan is more concerned with ousting the Assad regime should’ve been the first red-flag to the US government when it was framing it’s pseudo-strategy to combat IS, but it would appear this is a case of incompetent analysts working the problem-set or a senior leadership willfully ignoring the recommendations of said analysts. We suspect that it’s the latter in this case since we personally know several analysts who are working the problem-set. They’ve voiced to us their frustrations at being ignored by decision-makers who would prefer to be told “what they want to hear” instead of what they need to hear. Had they listened to their analysts, they would know that Turkey isn’t a dependable ally (and we use the term quite loosely here), and is operating on their own agenda that’s to our detriment. Even after the Erdogan government initially came out with their public statement denying they’re allowing the US military to use their air bases to launch airstrikes against IS, the US government continues to insist that it can get Turkey to get involved and target IS. Unfortunately, the US government’s drumbeat being fed to the mainstream media doesn’t mirror reality. In fact, the much-vaunted “Anti-IS Coalition” appears to be every bit the “Coalition of the Reluctantly Willing” that we’ve assessed it to be.

Read more

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Erdogan: Turkey the Hope of All Peoples in the Region, We Will Be the Architect of a New Middle East

Published on Nov 18, 2014 by MEMRITVVideos

In an October 13, 2014 speech given at Marmara University, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced what he claimed was the continued efforts by Western powers to divide the Middle East. He claimed that the hopes of the peoples of the region lie, once again, with Turkey as it was during the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Also see:

6 Failed Policies Obama and the State Department Won’t Stop Pushing

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By Robert Spencer:

Presidents come and presidents go, but the State Department’s foreign policy establishment is forever. And no matter how many times its remedies fail to heal problems (and usually cause worse ones), it keeps on applying them, without an ounce of self-reflection. And in Barack Obama, the lifers at State have a president after their own heart – one whose vision of the world coincides exactly with theirs, and who takes their recommendations without question and fronts for them eagerly, no matter how often and how abysmally they have failed.

Here are six policies that have failed miserably again and again, and yet are still front and center in the Obama administration’s foreign policy planning:

6. Supporting the Afghan regime

The corrupt and treacherous [2] kleptocrat Hamid Karzai is gone, but his legacy lives on. The new president, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, is almost certainly still receiving those bags of cash from the CIA [3], and the new regime shows no more interest in accountability than Karzai did. It was revealed Thursday [4]that

nearly $420 million in weapons and other “sensitive items” have gone missing from U.S. Army bases in Afghanistan and are not likely to be recovered due to mismanagement and improper accounting, according to an internal report by the Pentagon’s inspector general obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

These include “some 15,600 pieces of equipment—including ‘weapons, weapons systems, and sensitive items,’” which “went missing in the past year from Army facilities in Bagram and Kandahar, accounting for around $419.5 million in losses, according to the report, which was issued in late October and marked ‘for official use only.’”

Will this slow down the flow of money and materiel to the Afghan regime? Don’t be silly. Despite the regime’s corruption, unwillingness to do anything to curb green-on-blue attacks, and inability to stop the Taliban, this won’t even be a speed bump.

Yet Obama and the State Department have never explained exactly what benefits to the United States will accrue from the massive expenditure and loss of American life in Afghanistan – they know the mainstream media and the Stupid Party will not call them on it, so why bother?

5. Fighting terrorism with money

Late in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish then-Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu launched what they called the “Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience,” which CNSNews.com said was intended to “support local communities and organizations to counter extremist ideology and promote tolerance.” It would do this essentially by giving potential jihad terrorists money and jobs – an initiative that proceeds from the false and oft-disproven assumption that poverty causes terrorism.

Kerry demonstrated his faith in this false assumption when he spoke about the importance of “providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment” into jihad groups. The GCTF is devoting $200 million to this project, which it calls “countering violent extremism” (CVE).

Kerry explained:

Getting this right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment. In country after country, you look at the demographics – Egypt, the West Bank – 60 percent of the young people either under the age of 30 or under the age of 25, 50 percent under the age of 21, 40 percent under the age of 18, all of them wanting jobs, opportunity, education, and a future.

This will be $200 million down the drain, for a lack of “economic opportunities for marginalized youth” doesn’t fuel Islamic jihad terrorism in the first place. In reality, study after study have shown that jihadists are not poor and bereft of economic opportunities, but generally wealthier and better educated than their peers. CNS noted that “according to a Rand Corporation report on counterterrorism, prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2009, ‘Terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. Demographically, their most important characteristic is normalcy (within their environment). Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.’ One of the authors of the RAND report, Darcy Noricks, also found that according to a number of academic studies, ‘Terrorists turn out to be more rather than less educated than the general population.’”

But none of this has sunk in among the political elites.

4. Working to topple Assad

Barack Obama has long had Bashar Assad in his sights, but has been stymied by the fact that the only significant opposition to the Assad regime are Islamic jihad groups. Now, however, he thinks he has found a way to square the circle: remove Assad, and the jihadis’ raison d’etre will be gone.

CNN [7] reported Thursday that Obama “has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.”

Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, explained: “Assad has been the biggest magnet for extremism in Syria, and the President has made clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern.”

The fact that this is even being considered shows that Obama doesn’t take seriously the Islamic State’s proclamations that it is a new caliphate that is going to keep on trying to expand. He thinks they’re just fighting to get Assad removed, and so if he obliges them, they will melt away.

But who does he think will replace Assad? Does he seriously think he can find someone who can immediately marshal enough support to be able to withstand the Islamic State? If he picks an Alawite, the ruler will have the same problems Assad does. If he picks a Sunni, the Islamic State leaders will say he is an apostate puppet of the Westerners, and fight on. Meanwhile, the disruption in Syria will give an opportunity to the Islamic State, which will be the force best situated to take advantage of a power vacuum in Syria.

So what Obama is saying is that to defeat the Islamic State, we have to let the Islamic State win. And you can see his point — at least then it will be out of the headlines and he won’t have to be constantly hearing about it. Or so he thinks.

 

3. Arming the “moderates”

Alistair Baskey also said Thursday that “alongside our efforts to isolate and sanction the Assad regime, we are working with our allies to strengthen the moderate opposition.” Who are the moderates in Syria? In September 2014, Obama said [8]: “We have a Free Syrian Army and a moderate opposition that we have steadily been working with that we have vetted.”

That was over a year after Free Syrian Army fighters entered the Christian village of Oum Sharshouh [9] in July 2013 and began burning down houses and terrorizing the population, forcing 250 Christian families to flee the area. Worthy News reported [10] that just two days later, Free Syrian Army rebels “targeted the residents of al-Duwayr/Douar, a Christian village close to the city of Homs and near Syria’s border with Lebanon….Around 350 armed militants forcefully entered the homes of Christian families who were all rounded-up in the main square of the village and then summarily executed.” And in September 2013, a day after Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Free Syrian Army as “a real moderate opposition,” the FSA took to the Internet [11]to post videos of its attack on the ancient Syrian Christian city of Maaloula, one of the few places where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken.

Even after all that, Obama was calling them “moderates.”

Read more at PJ Media with videos

AP: Islamic State and Al Qaeda Reach Accord

isis-global-conquest-map1-450x251Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher Holton:

The Associated Press is reporting that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have reached an accord after a summit meeting in northern Syria.

This is a very bad development, but not unexpected. Abu Sayyef in the Philippines,Boko Haram in West Africa, Al Shabaab in East Africa, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula all already pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Just this week, Egypt’s most dangerous Jihadist group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, also joined the Islamic State. In addition, 5 prominent Taliban leaders also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

We are now seeing the dream of the Caliphate being realized by Jihadis worldwide. Far from having them “on the run,” they are making strides and unifying, fighting in more places with more fighters than at any time in the past several hundred years.

Half-hearted measures, micromanagement by unqualified politicians and a Vietnam-style strategy of gradual escalation are sure to fail and, unlike the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, today’s Jihadist enemies are already in our midst and plotting to attack us here.

Meanwhile, our irresponsible, feckless leaders focus on fringe pet issues of the Left rather than real national security issues, sitting by as the Islamic State spreads its violent Jihad from the Philippines to Libya and Nigeria.

Our children will pay the price for such horrible, misguided policies, which amount to perhaps the biggest strategic blunder in American history.

Also see:

***

CJR – There is some debate over whether top leadership of IS and al Qaeda have formally agreed to join forces:

tweets

The Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales

pic_giant_111114_SM_Syria-Civil-WarNational Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Nov. 11, 2014:

Since the outbreak of the latest Middle East war a few years back, we have been chronicling the Washington political class’s Syria Fairy Tales. In particular, there is the story line that Syria is really teeming with secular democrats and authentic moderate Muslims who would have combined forces to both overthrow Assad and fight off the jihadists if only President Obama had helped them. But his failure to act created a “vacuum” that was tragically filled by Islamist militants and gave rise to ISIS. At this point in the story, you are supposed to stay politely mum and not ask whether it makes any sense that real democrats and actual moderates would agree to be led by head-chopping, mass-murdering, freedom-stifling sharia terrorists.

In point of fact, there simply have never been enough pro-Western elements in Syria to win, no matter how much help came their way. There was never going to be a moderate, democratic Syrian state without a U.S. invasion and occupation for a decade or more, an enterprise that would be politically untenable — and, as the Iraq enterprise shows, unlikely to succeed. The “moderate rebels” had no chance against Assad unless they colluded with the Islamist militants, who are vastly superior and more numerous fighters. And they would have even less chance of both knocking off Assad and staving off the jihadists.

The Obama administration and the Beltway commentariat have done their best to obscure these brute facts. Their main tactic is to exploit the American public’s unfamiliarity with the makeup of Syria. Obama Democrats and much of the Beltway GOP continue to invoke the “moderate Syrian rebels” while steadfastly refusing to identify just who those purported “moderates” are.They hope you won’t realize that, because of the dearth of actual moderate Muslims and freedom fighters, they must count among their “moderate rebels” both the Muslim Brotherhood (which should be designated as a terrorist organization) and various other Islamist factions, including . . .  wait for it . . . parts of al-Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.

We’ve also noted that a new wrinkle has recently been added to the Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales: Obama’s Khorasan Fraud. In a desperate attempt to conceal the falsity of Obama’s boasts about destroying what is actually a resurgent al-Qaeda, the administration claimed that the threat to America that impelled Obama to start bombing Syria was not ISIS (supposedly just a “regional” threat), not al-Qaeda (already defeated, right?), but a hitherto unknown terrorist organization called the “Khorasan group.”

To the contrary, the Khorasan group, to the extent it exists at all, has never been a stand-alone terrorist organization. It is an internal component of al-Qaeda — specifically, an advisory board (or, in Islamic terms, a shura council) of al-Qaeda veterans who advise and carry out directives from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s emir. During the fighting in Syria, some of these operatives were sent there by Zawahiri to conduct operations under the auspices of al-Nusra. These operations have included jihadist activity against both the United States and Assad allies, plus negotiations for a rapprochement with the Islamic State (or ISIS). The limited success of those negotiations has led to fighting among the jihadists themselves.

The ball to keep your eye on here is al-Qaeda. The al-Nusra terrorist group is just al-Qaeda in Syria. Even ISIS is just a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda. And the Khorasan group is just a top-tier group of al-Qaeda veterans doing al-Qaeda’s work in conjunction with al Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda.

The Obama administration disingenuously emphasizes these various foreign names to confuse Americans into thinking that there are various factions with diverse agendas in Syria — that al-Qaeda is no longer a problem because Obama has already dealt with it, and what remains are sundry groups of “moderate rebels” that the administration can work with in the effort to vanquish ISIS. Meanwhile, you are supposed to refrain from noticing that Obama’s original Syrian project — remember, he wanted Assad toppled — has given way to fighting ISIS . . . the very Sunni jihadists who were empowered by Obama’s lunatic policies of (a) switching sides in Libya in order to support the jihadists against Qaddafi and (b) abetting and encouraging Sunni Muslim governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to arm Sunni militias in the fight against Assad — those militias having all along included al-Qaeda elements, some of which split off to become ISIS and now threaten to bite off the very hands that once fed them.

If you thought the Khorasan fraud was just a passing fad to get Obama through the initial stages of trying to rationalize his incoherent Syria air campaign, think again.

You see, Obama continues to have a problem. Everyone knows that ISIS, the main target of U.S. bombings in Syria and Iraq, cannot be defeated — or even stalled much — by a mere air campaign, which has been half-hearted at best anyway. Ground forces will be needed. So the administration and Washington’s foreign-policy clerisy keep telling Americans: Never fear, there is no need for U.S. ground troops, because we can rely on “moderate rebels” to fight ISIS. But the so-called “moderates” Obama backs have been colluding with al-Qaeda (i.e., al-Nusra) for years — at least when not being routed by al-Qaeda/al-Nusra.

Now, the sensible thing at this point would be to concede that there are no viable moderate forces in Syria, and that it would be folly for us to continue pretending those forces either exist or will materialize anytime soon. But no, that would be honest . . . which is not the Obama way — nor, frankly, is it the Washington way — to end our willful blindness to the lack of moderation among Middle Eastern Muslims.

So if honesty is not an option, what to do? Simple: Let’s just pretend that al-Nusra — part of the al-Qaeda network we have been at war with for 13 years — is, yes,moderate!

But wait a second? How can we possibly pull that off when we know al-Nusra/al-Qaeda is also plotting to attack the United States and the West?

Easy: That’s why we have the “Khorasan group”!

I kid you not. Even as al-Nusra/al-Qaeda mow down any “moderate rebels” who don’t join up with them, the Obama administration is telling Americans, “No, no, no: The al-Nusra guys are really good, moderate, upstanding jihadists. The real problem is that awful Khorasan group!”

Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have the story at The Long War Journal:

CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group

US Central Command [CENTCOM] attempted to distinguish between the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the so-called Khorasan Group in yesterday’s press release that detailed airstrikes in Syria.

CENTCOM, which directs the US and coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, denied that the five airstrikes targeted “the Nusrah Front as a whole” due to its infighting with the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, but instead claimed the attacks were directed at the Khorasan Group.

“These strikes were not in response to the Nusrah Front’s clashes with the Syrian moderate opposition, and they did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole,” CENTCOM noted in its press release.

The CENTCOM statement goes a step further by implying that the Al Nusrah Front is fighting against the Syrian government while the Khorasan Group is hijacking the Syrian revolution to conduct attacks against the West.

“They [the US airstrikes] were directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people,” CENTCOM continues. “These al Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”

[Emphasis added.]

Read Tom and Bill’s entire report, which sheds light on the web of jihadist connections.

Understand, the Khorasan group is al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda. The “moderate Syrian rebels” are neither moderate nor myopically focused on Assad and Syria. (Indeed, Syria does not even exist as the same country anymore, now that ISIS has eviscerated its border with Iraq while capturing much of its territory.) The overarching Islamic-supremacist strategy of al-Qaeda has never cared about Western-drawn borders. The ambition of al-Qaeda, like that of its breakaway ISIS faction, is to conquer both the “near” enemies — i.e., the Middle East territories not currently governed by its construction of sharia — and the West. Al-Qaeda (a.k.a. al-Nusra, a.k.a. the Khorasan group) wants to overthrow Assad, but it still regards the United States as its chief nemesis.

The Khorasan group exists only as an advisory group around Zawahiri. The Obama administration’s invocation of it to divert attention from al-Qaeda and launder al-Nusra into “moderate Syrian rebels” is sheer subterfuge.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s

ISIS and Al Qaeda Ready to Gang Up on Obama’s Rebels

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At a secret meeting in Syria brokered by the dreaded Khorasan group, the terrorist rivals discussed a merger.
By Jamie Dettmer:
ISTANBUL—Jihadi veterans known collectively as the Khorasan group, which have been targeted in two waves of airstrikes by U.S. warplanes, are trying to broker an alarming merger between militant archrivals the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra, the official Syrian branch of al Qaeda.
The merger, if it comes off, would have major ramifications for the West. It would reshape an already complex battlefield in Syria, shift forces further against Western interests, and worsen the prospects for survival of the dwindling and squabbling bands of moderate rebels the U.S. is backing and is planning to train.

“Khorasan sees its role now as securing an end to the internal conflict between Islamic State and al Nusra,” says a senior rebel source. The first results are already being seen on the ground in northern Syria with a coordinated attack on two rebel militias favored by Washington.

All three of the groups involved in the merger talks—Khorasan, Islamic State (widely known as ISIS or ISIL), and al Nusra—originally were part of al Qaeda. Khorasan reportedly was dispatched to Syria originally to recruit Westerners from among the thousands of jihadi volunteers who could take their terror war back to Europe and the United States. But among ferocious ideologues, similar roots are no guarantee of mutual sympathy when schisms occur.

Current and former U.S. officials say they are unaware of any cooperation between ISIS and al Nusra, and they doubt that a merger or long-term association could be pulled off. “I find it hard to believe that al Nusra and Islamic State could sink their differences,” says a former senior administration official. “The rift between them is very deep,” he adds.

But senior Syrian opposition sources say efforts at a merger are very much under way and they blame Washington for creating the circumstances that make it possible. Moderate rebels accuse the Obama administration of fostering jihadi rapprochement by launching ill-conceived airstrikes on al Nusra while at the same time adamantly refusing to target the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the U.S. military intervention in the region.

This, they say, has created the opening for a possible understanding between the jihadists and is creating sympathy for al Nusra. Other Islamist rebels and the wider population in insurgent-held areas in northern Syria question American motives and designs and remain furious at the U.S. decision not to help topple Assad.

“Al Nusra knows more airstrikes are coming, so why wait,” says an opposition source. If the Americans are going to lump them together with ISIS, maybe best to join forces. “What made the possibility of their coming together are the airstrikes.”

The opposition sources, who agreed to interviews on the condition they not be identified, warn that mounting cooperation between the two jihadist groups already is evident in specific operations.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Also see:

Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

By Jeff Stein:

Nothing has come in for more mockery during the Obama administration’s halting steps into the Syrian civil war than its employment of “moderate” to describe the kind of rebels it is willing to back. In one of the more widely cited japes, The New Yorker’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, presented a “Moderate Syrian Application Form,” in which applicants were asked to describe themselves as either “A) Moderate, B) Very moderate, C) Crazy moderate or D) Other.”

After Senator John McCain unwittingly posed with Syrians “on our side” who turned out to be kidnappers, Jon Stewart cracked, “Not everyone is going to be wearing their ‘HELLO I’M A TERRORIST’ name badge.”

Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.

Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.

“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”

No, says former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who still travels the region for the Soufan Group, a private intelligence organization headed by FBI, CIA and MI6 veterans. “Syria is a vetting nightmare,” he told Newsweek, “with no way to discern the loyalties of not only those being vetted but also of those bringing the people to our attention.”

A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.

“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

Read more at Newsweek

EMET Phone Seminar: Dr. Jonathan Schanzer – Turkey and its Dubious Performance as an ‘Ally’

 

EMET is proud to host Dr. Jonathan Schanzer on a phone seminar to discuss Turkey.

Turkey is a supposed “ally” of the United States and NATO, yet many officials in Washington are doubting the loyalty of Ankara, which failed to join the U.S.-led air bombing campaign against the Islamic State. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan labeled the U.S. allied Kurds in Syria fighting the Islamic State as terrorists.One U.S. official reportedly said Turkey is secretly offering support to ISIS, and that many in Washington believe Turkey is partnering with Qatar to support Islamist groups in Libya. Moreover, Turkey has allowed weapons to be transported into Syria through its borders, as well as ISIS fighters to move freely between the two countries. There are ISIS cells operating throughout Turkey, and Ankara has turned a blind eye to ISIS selling smuggled oil. Turkey also has a track record of supporting Islamists, serving as a safe haven for senior Hamas officials and Muslim Brotherhood members.
In light of the above, can Turkey be relied upon at all in the fight against ISIS? And is it time for the West to end its alliance with Turkey? Please join us to hear answers to these questions and more with expert Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, the Vice President of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
Dr. Jonathan Schanzer joined FDD in February 2010, bringing solid scholarship and public policy credentials to his job of overseeing FDD’s research. He worked as a terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he played an integral role in the designation of numerous terrorist financiers. A former research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Dr. Schanzer has studied Middle East history in four countries. He earned his Ph.D. from Kings College London, where he wrote his dissertation on the U.S. Congress and its efforts to combat terrorism in the 20th century.

Dr. Schanzer’s books have made unique contributions to the field. He most recently published State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State (Palgrave Macmillan), which argues the main roadblock to Palestinian statehood is not necessarily Israel’s intransigence, but the Palestinian Authority’s political dysfunction and mismanagement.
Dr. Schanzer has testified before Congress and publishes widely in the American and international media. He has appeared on American television channels such as Fox News and CNN, and Arabic language television channels such as al-Arabiyya and al-Jazeera. Dr. Schanzer has traveled widely throughout the Middle East, including Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. He speaks Arabic and Hebrew.

Also see:

Wannabe jihadists are taking cruises to avoid security checks while travelling to Syria and Iraq

Reuters / Gary Cameron

Reuters / Gary Cameron

Schanzer tweet

news.com.au: WANNABE jihadi fighters are increasingly booking tickets on cruise ships to join extremists in battle zones in Syria and Iraq, hoping to bypass stepped-up efforts to thwart them in neighboring Turkey, Interpol officials have told The Associated Press.

This is one of the reasons why the international police body is preparing to expand a pilot program known as I-Checkit, which airlines use to check passenger information against Interpol’s databases – in hopes that one day the system could expand to include cruise operators, banks, hotels and other private-sector partners.

Turkey, with its long and often porous border with Syria, has been a major thoroughfare for many of the thousands of foreign fighters seeking to join extremists like the Islamic State group, which has captured territory across Iraq and Syria.

Speaking in Monaco, where Interpol is holding its general assembly this week, outgoing chief Ronald Noble confirmed that Turkey was a destination for would-be jihadists, but declined to identify any others.

He also refused to indicate how many people might be involved, but called on countries to step up screening at all transportation hubs – “airports and, more and more, cruise lines.”

Turkish authorities say they have set up teams to nab suspected foreign fighters in airports and bus stations, and have deported hundreds in recent months.

Pierre St. Hilaire, director of counterterrorism at Interpol, suggested that the Turkish crackdown has shown results in recent months, and so some would-be jihadis are making alternative travel plans.

“Because they know the airports are monitored more closely now, there’s a use of cruise ships to travel to those areas,” he said.

“There is evidence that the individuals, especially in Europe, are traveling mostly to Izmit and other places to engage in this type of activity,” he said, referring to a Turkish coastal town.

The phenomenon is relatively new, within the past three months or so, said other Interpol officials.

“Originally, our concern about people on cruise ships – dangerous people on cruise ships – really focused on the classic sort of rapist, burglar, or violent criminal,” Mr Noble said.

“But as we’ve gathered data, we’ve realized that there are more and more reports that people are using cruise ships in order to get to launch pads, if you will – sort of closer to the conflict zones – of Syria and Iraq.”

Cruise ships, which often make repeated stops, offer an added benefit by allowing would-be jihadis to hop off undetected at any number of ports – making efforts to track them more difficult.

Mr St. Hilaire said it wasn’t exactly clear yet how many would-be foreign fighters were traveling by cruise ship to reach Syria, and added that there were other options as well: to avoid passing through airports, some people have driven all the way from their homes in Europe to the Syrian border.

He was quick to caution that Europe is by no means the only or even the main source of foreign fighters for Syria.

“It’s a global threat – 15,000 fighters or more from 81 countries traveling to one specific conflict zone,” he said, noting that that there are some 300 from China alone.

“In order to prevent their travel and identify them, there needs to be greater information-sharing among the region, among national security agencies.”

Many European governments have expressed concern that home-grown jihadis who self-radicalize online and then travel to Syria will return home with skills to carry out terror attacks. Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, who allegedly spent a year in Syria and fought with Islamic State, is the chief suspect in a May attack on the Jewish Museum of Brussels that killed four people.

Jihadists Psychologically Dominate the Battlefield

jihad4ACLJ, By David French:

Everyone who’s spent five minutes in the Middle East knew — or should have known – this was going to happen:

The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State.

I won’t go through all the gory details (I’d urge you to read Ira Straus’s excellent home-page piece), but Americans have to understand the utter futility of our quest for effective “moderate” proxies to fight jihad. We have spent billions of dollars, have trained young Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans for countless hours, and have equipped them with weapons far superior to anything the jihadists posses, and still they melt away — running or switching sides at first contact with the enemy.

Why?

Because jihadists psychologically dominate the battlefield. Training and weapons are obviously key to success in combat, but training a soldier isn’t like training an accountant or IT professional — it’s about so much more than knowledge or tools. All of this should be elementary, but the increasing lack of combat experience in the highest echelons of our government suggests it’s not. At the most elementary level, a soldier has to find the moral courage to overcome primal fear. And when fighting jihadists, the Iraqi soldier or Syrian moderate faces a sudden, terrifying reality.

They are coming, and they will not stop.

That is the reality of fighting disciplined armies, but it is also the reality of fighting fanatics — of people who give the impression that they don’t care whether they live or die, that the normal rules of human preservation have been utterly discarded, and they exist only to kill or be killed. In the face of such ferocity, there is but one response:

We shall not be moved.

This is the response of the American fighting man, whether it’s the Marine at Guadalcanal confronting a midnight banzai charge, the outgunned sailors at Leyte Gulf facing down the barrels of the world’s most powerful battleships, or the soldiers and Marines in countless firefights from the Pusan Perimeter in Korea, to Khe Sanh in Vietnam, or in the nameless battles across Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is not the universal response of all fighting men, and even American troops have cracked under extreme duress in wars past. And jihadists often crack when facing Americans today.

Historically, the power of this “fighting spirit” (or élan as the French called it when they launched human wave attacks against German positions early in World War I) has been so clearly recognized that even otherwise sophisticated military minds have believed that spirit alone can overcome deficiencies in equipment, training, and tactics. It can, and it does — until “fighting spirit” collides with iron will and discipline on the other side. But when that iron will doesn’t exist, the spirit wins. The French were foolish to believe that the German soldier would melt in the face of French bravery. The jihadist knows the Iraqi soldier will flee.

The jihadist burns with conviction. The Iraqi soldier, by contrast, may hate and fear the jihadist, but with rare exceptions he does not carry the same level of conviction into the fight. Talk to virtually any American who’s spent significant time with Afghan and Iraqi forces. The words, “motivated,” “disciplined,” and “courageous” do not come easily — even if (as is sometimes the case) the Americans grow to like their Iraqi or Afghan allies.

It’s past time for our leaders to recognize our allies’ profound limitations. Unsupported by direct contact with Americans in the field, they serve mainly as cannon fodder — ready to throw down their (American-made) arms the moment the fight starts to drift out of their immediate control. Yes, the Kurds fight well, but the Kurds can’t and shouldn’t lead an offensive outside their traditional areas of control.

But for now — so long as the Obama administration is in charge — recent experience and historical military truths mean nothing, and our “allies” are functioning as little more than middlemen, holding our weapons until they’re turned over, slightly used, to their new jihadist masters.